Aug 212016
 

This morning a text notification scrolled across the top of my iPhone, letting me know that today is Extreme Sunday, the last day of the Iowa State Fair. Despite the fact that admission is half-price, John and I stayed home. We did, however, visit the Fair this past Tuesday, taking advantage of free tickets provided by my employer as an annual expression of employee appreciation. Employees typically work until noon and then take off for the Fair, most of us wearing T-shirts emblazoned with our company name on the front and a slogan on the back.

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We began our tour of the 450-acre fairgrounds by entering the Agriculture Building to view the annual Butter Cow and Star Trek exhibition, both carved by Sarah Pratt. The Butter Cow celebrates its 105th anniversary this year, but butter sculptures have been featured at the Fair since 1911. It takes about 600 pounds of butter and 16 hours to craft the Butter Cow alone.

Butter Sculptures

Of course, we also enjoyed the ice sculptures by Bill Gordish that stand beside the butter sculptures. We have never arrived at the State Fair early enough to watch them being carved, but thanks to Iowa Public Television, you can see Bill at work below. He has been designing ice sculptures for 30 years, with 26 of those years at the Fair. A sculpture typically begins as a 300-pound block of ice.

When we exited the Agriculture Building, we made our way up the hill to the Cultural Center. We passed the Fun Forest, where children played who had more energy than their parents who sat on benches, watching them.

Fun Forest Playground

As we threaded our way past groups of people, we realized we were part of this year’s visitor statistics. Typically, more than one million people visit the Fair over the course of the 11-day, 162-year-old event. Many of them take advantage of the free entertainment that is around every corner. We did, too, catching our breath as we stopped to enjoy part of a Vocal Trash concert at the MidAmerican Energy Stage. The State Fair program describes this group as “Glee Meets Stomp,” and features—among other things—industrial-style drumming.

When we arrived at the Cultural Center, we were eager to view our friends’ blown glass pieces that had been accepted for display. Keith and Brenda Kutz are members of a glass-blowing club at Iowa State University called the Gaffer’s Guild.

Left: Strawberry Sorbet, by Brenda Kutz. Top: Concentric, by Keith Kutz. Bottom: Helix, by Brenda Kutz.

Left: Strawberry Sorbet, by Brenda Kutz. Top: Concentric, by Keith Kutz. Bottom: Helix, by Brenda Kutz.

The Cultural Center features many types of fine arts and crafts, some of which include photography, wood carving, pottery, miniature dollhouse design, painting, jewelry design, glass blowing and much more. In several locations you can watch artists at work.

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Some of the finished works of art that we admired are shown below. You never know what to expect.

Top, 1st Place Dollhouses & Miniature Rooms - Dena Heeren. Bottom left, 1st Place Adult Sculpture: Hurry, Sally, You're Late for School - William Close. Bottom right, 1st Place Creative Arts - Walter Gardner, Jr.

Top, 1st Place Dollhouses & Miniature Rooms – Dena Heeren. Bottom left, 1st Place Adult Sculpture: Hurry, Sally, You’re Late for School – William Close. Bottom right, 1st Place Creative Arts – Walter Gardner, Jr.

Our top-of-the-hill destination, of course, was Farm Bureau Pioneer Hall, an old building that is representative of many other State Fair buildings that pre-date World War I. Part of its charm is the high-raftered ceiling and large doorways left open to the air. The building is home to working exhibits and displays. There is a stage where talented fiddlers play, the Des Moines Senior Singers entertain, and The Final Act Ensemble Old Time Radio Show from the Des Moines Community Playhouse puts on a special show. There are piano, harmonica and accordion contests for both adults and young people, as well as yodeling. You’ll find a country-style antique market, an old-fashioned print shop, a blacksmith shop, a pottery shop, chair caning demonstrations, and much more. On Pioneer Hall’s lawn are working tractors from last century and hand mills where children can experience firsthand the effort it takes to grind grain.

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Many people come to the Iowa State Fair for Midway rides and games; they want to taste every type of food-on-a-stick that you can imagine and sample craft beers, and of course enjoy big-name musical entertainment such as KISS, Steven Tyler, and Lady Antebellum at the Grandstand. However, it is a fact that agricultural and industrial education is an important mission of the Iowa State Fair, providing a strong backdrop to everything you will experience on the fairgrounds. The Iowa State Fair is also “America’s classic state fair,” the biggest event in Iowa, and one of the oldest and largest agricultural and industrial expositions in the country. In 1987, it was named to the National Register of Historic Places. The Iowa State Fair is also the largest art show in the state, featuring fine art, handmade crafts, visual arts, and performing arts. Art is one of the main reasons that John and I visit the Iowa State Fair. Our son, David, and I have both entered our crafts into competition at past fairs, earning a few ribbons, and my success at the Fair is what propelled me to begin selling handmade goods.

This chainmail coif was entered into competition eight years ago by David, who now is a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism. The links were made entirely by hand and the pattern was designed by David.

This chainmail coif, designed by David, was entered into competition eight years ago. The woven links were made entirely by hand. David is now a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism. This group is dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th century Europe. Visit www.sca.org for more information.

But I’m straying from our story. It was a hot and humid day outdoors—typical Iowa State Fair weather—with a sweltering 100 degrees inside Pioneer Hall. We rewarded ourselves for braving the hill with an icy hand-squeezed lemonade.

Cold lemonade always puts a smile on hot, shiny faces.

Cold lemonade always puts a smile on hot, shiny faces.

Then we visited one of our favorite spots, where artisans Jeff and Marlys Sowers of Pinicon Farm Crafts demonstrate the art of hand-coopered Shaker-style boxes and woven baskets. Jeff does the woodwork, while Marlys does the weaving.

Jeff and Marlys Sowers

Last year I purchased a two-section Shaker-style carrier, perfect for carrying spools of thread, buttons and my needle book from one location to another inside our home.

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This year I bought the jewelry basket shown below that was made by Marlys over two molds, woven with cane. The staves are made of reed, the knob is bone ivory, and the cherry wood was turned by Jeff. When I asked Marlys how long it takes to weave such a basket, she told me it takes about 16 hours, plus another few hours for her husband to turn the wood and the entire basket to be dipped in a polyurethane glaze to preserve it.

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Always a highlight of our visit to the Pioneer Building is the 1920s-style newspaper and print shop that is set up against one wall. For a fee, you can have a flier printed for you.

Printing Press

After we toured Pioneer Hall, we walked down the hill to the Varied Industries Building, where the Iowa Farm and Food Sandscape was still being built.

Farm & Food Sandscape

Upstairs, you’ll always find the Fabric and Threads exhibition. When we first moved to Des Moines, the exhibition was held beneath the Grandstand, but it eventually outgrew that space and relocated. The new space easily accommodates competitive quilts and other items such as needle arts, crochet, knitting, weaving and sewing. There is even a room dedicated to a sew-in every day from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., where quilts are sewn for children with special needs. The Fabric and Threads items I especially enjoyed are shown below.

Isn't it amazing what different projects can be produced from yarn? Top left, 1st Place Crocheted Doily - Jessica Weinrich. Top right, Second Place Knitted Sweater - Gay Holstine. Bottom left: 3rd Place Hooked Rug - Eden Schmitt. Bottom right: Crocheted Chessboard & Chesspieces - Judith Conti.

Isn’t it amazing what different projects can be produced from yarn? Top left, 1st Place Crocheted Doily – Jessica Weinrich. Top right, 2nd Place Knitted Sweater – Gay Holstine. Bottom left: 3rd Place Hooked Rug – Eden Schmitt. Bottom right: Crocheted Chessboard & Chess Pieces – Judith Conti.

These garments caught my eye. Left: 1st Place Gray Hooded Coat - Beth Wehrman. Right: 2nd Place Traditional Costume - Melissa Hawk.

These garments caught my eye. Left: 1st Place Gray Hooded Coat – Beth Wehrman. Right: 2nd Place Traditional Costume – Melissa Hawk.

Pat Devine appears to be the Queen of Soft Sculpture, earning 2nd Place and 1st Place, respectively, for the Old Fashioned Santa and Teddy Bear.

Pat Devine appears to be the Queen of Soft Sculpture, earning 2nd Place and 1st Place, respectively, for the Old Fashioned Santa and Teddy Bear.

I wish this photo had better resolution, but it was taken quite a distance away with my iPhone. Still, it represents the kind of cross stitch I enjoy doing myself--counted cross stitch on linen. 1st Place - Denise M. Baustian.

I wish this photo had better resolution, but it was taken quite a distance away with my iPhone. Still, it represents the kind of cross stitch I enjoy doing myself–counted cross stitch on linen. 1st Place – Denise M. Baustian.

Every year that John and I visit the Iowa State Fair, we are never able to see everything that it offers. To do so, I suspect, would take more than the 11 days the Fair is held. Not even the families who camp on the edge of the fairgrounds, making the State Fair their annual family vacation, experience all there is to see and do. At the end of the day, our feet are sore, but our hearts and heads are filled with the sights, sounds, and scents of the Fair. And next year, of course, you know that we’ll be back.

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Chainsaw carvers A.J. Lutter and Gary Keenan come to the fair each year, sculpting figures from trees.

© 2016 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

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Aug 132016
 

Whether you’ve been blogging for years or are a relative newcomer to the blogging scene, the challenge is the same: coming up with a foolproof way to begin writing a post. I took a few months off from blogging earlier this year, while I was undergoing cancer treatments, but when I returned to blogging, that white desktop screen was a bit daunting. Here are three ways I jump start my own posts that you may find helpful.

 Photo by Dinalya Dawes (https://www.flickr.com/photos/dinalyadawes/16679987154) via: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Photo by Dinalya Dawes (https://www.flickr.com/photos/dinalyadawes/16679987154) via: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Respond to what you read

Writers generally have more to say when they do something outside of writing, whether that’s visiting the state fair, learning how to surf, attending a play, reading a book, or doing anything else. Lori Lake, in Quick Ways to Jump-Start Your Writing, says you can find topics anywhere—the newspaper, television, overheard conversations, the radio, and so on. “Start making a quick list throughout the day,” she says, “about anything that strikes you . . .”

One of the best ways I come up with a blog post idea is by responding to a book, magazine article or blog post I have read, or to a comment on one of my own posts. This post, in fact, is a response to a recent comment from a reader who said she simply needs to “. . . begin something—anything at all to get the ball rolling.”

Are there certain types of articles or posts to which you’re drawn? Likely these are the same topics that will inspire you to write. Cover a different angle about the same topic, or expand on one of the points you’ve read. Argue a different point of view, or cite reasons why you agree, and provide evidence. Invite others’ opinions, cite others’ opinions, and respond to one or more of these points of view. For myself, I’m drawn to such topics as writing, creativity, crafts and mindfulness. What reading topics draw your attention? That’s your starting point.

Photo by Lori Greig (https://www.flickr.com/photos/lori_greig/2195971982) via: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Photo by Lori Greig (https://www.flickr.com/photos/lori_greig/2195971982) via: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Begin with the title

When I used to write Instant Challenges (on-the-spot creative problem-solving exercises) for Iowa’s Destination Imagination program, my writing team identified a theme, and then brainstormed titles to correspond with it. One year we had an abundance of toilet paper rolls to use as working materials, so “roll” became our theme, and the Instant Challenges were generated from roll-themed titles.

A Roll-of-Plenty

Blog posts can begin exactly the same way. Identify a theme you want to address, and then begin brainstorming titles. If you’re stumped, use a list of title starters, such as April Bowles-Olin’s 75 Done-For-You Blog Post Title Templates, posted on her blog, Blacksburg Belle. Here’s an example of how this might work for a fellow Blogging Business Artisans teammate, Sharla, whose Beaded Tail blog posts are written in the person of her cats, Angel and Isabella. The cats refer to Sharla as “Mommy.” Some of Sharla’s beaded jewelry designs feature an animal theme, and one of the causes she supports is animal awareness, especially for animals with special needs. Using April Bowles-Olin’s templates, here are some potential titles Sharla might use to begin several posts:

  • Template: Why You Should __________ Today; Blog Post Title: Why You Should Support Your Local Animal Shelter Today
  • Template: Behind the Scenes of __________; Blog Post Title: Behind the Scenes of Mommy’s Bead Studio
  • Template: The Right Way to __________; Blog Post Title: The Right Way to Feed Your Cat’s Curiosity
  • Template: The ABCs of __________; Blog Post Title: The ABCs to Building a Purr-fect Playground
  • Template: __________ Tricks to __________; Blog Post Title: Clever Tricks to Wrap Mommy Around Our Tails

Beginning a post with a title not only helps you to write the content of the post, but is also an attention-getter. “Titles matter more than most people realize,” writes April. “It’s really the ONLY thing that matters when you’re trying to get people to click to read the blog post.”

Draw a mind map

When you aren’t getting anywhere with topic and title lists, you may discover that a visual approach to brainstorming is helpful. Vicki Meade, in How to Use Clustering to Jump Start Your Writing, points out that one of the best ways to come up with ideas and find a direction for a writing piece is clustering, also referred to as mind mapping. “Clustering is a powerful tool,” Vicki writes, “because it taps into the right brain, which drives creativity. Our right brain is where fresh ideas and original insights are generated. The left brain, in contrast, is more logical and orderly.” Being left-brained or right-brained, of course, has no basis in scientific fact, as both sides of our cerebral cortex are involved in creativity, but left and right brain terminology does describe people’s inclinations and resulting behaviors. Sometimes we get caught up in criticizing our initial ideas so much that we stem the flow of our own creativity. This results in what is commonly referred to as writer’s block.

The way that clustering, or mind mapping, works is through the process of free association, using word-and-image connections. You begin by identifying a word, phrase or image that represents a central idea. You circle that word or phrase, and then add any words, phrases or images that come to mind after that, circling and connecting them with lines to the original circle. These words or phrases may also suggest other ideas to you, so you continue the process of jotting them down or drawing them, circling them, and attaching lines between circles to suggest connected ideas. There is really no right or wrong way to do this. If you wish, use colored pencils or markers, and use squares, triangles and other shapes, in addition to circles. Stop when you’ve either filled the working space, or when you can no longer think of connections. Keep in mind that your working space could also be a dry erase board or even a wall on which you adhere sticky notes. When you’re finished, look at related ideas and group them together to establish the focus of your post. Finally, begin writing. Make sure you don’t stop along the way to edit your post. When the post is finished, return to your post to correct grammar, punctuation and syntax, and to add images and needed links.

Photo by Jessica Mullent (https://www.flickr.com/photos/jessicamullen/3230262686) via: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

This mind map is centered around the concept of information, with related ideas radiating around it. It is important, when you free associate, that you don’t edit out your ideas, as that limits your final outcome.  Photo by Jessica Mullen (https://www.flickr.com/photos/jessicamullen/3230262686) via: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

A great resource for discovering how to use mind mapping is Tony Busan’s book, The Ultimate Book of Mind Maps, which focuses on paper-and-pen methods. Truthfully, I prefer to use paper-and-pen, but if you’d like to preview an electronic method of mind mapping, the six-and-a-half minute video below of iMindMap, admittedly an older video, provides a great sneak peek into electronic mind mapping principles in general.

Some of the advantages to using mind mapping software are that you can save, print, edit and share your mind map. There are many applications that you can use on the Web or on your mobile devices. Ideally, mind mapping software should sync between Web and mobile devices. You can refer to the list below to compare apps. Consider that a free app will have fewer features than a purchased one, but that there may be an option to upgrade to a full-featured version for a reasonable fee.

Obviously, there are more than three ways to jump start your blogging than the ones I’ve outlined in this post, but I have found these methods to be personally useful. What are your favorite methods of kickstarting a blog post?

© 2016 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

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Aug 062016
 

In last week’s post, How to tell a story only you can tell, I discussed the importance of writing daily to develop your writing voice. How much you write and what you write are really up to you. Simply stated, you’re the boss. Some writers set themselves a word count, others a page count, and a number of people do a lot of writing inside their heads before they set pen to paper or fingertips upon keys. I “write” in the shower, of all places, formulating sentences that turn into paragraphs and pages once I towel off. Sometimes my daily writing exercise consists of nothing more than a list of ideas I want to explore, or a list of titles I have brainstormed. Honestly, I don’t think it matters how much you write or what you write; just make sure you write something every day, however you define writing for yourself. Writing is like any other skill you might have—archery, speaking a foreign language, or crocheting—if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. At the very least you’ll be on shaky ground, for a while, when you begin writing after taking some time off.

You never know what ideas you'll generate during a shower. Photo by Emily Orpin (https://www.flickr.com/photos/ejorpin/8061410382) via: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

You never know what ideas you’ll generate during a shower. Photo by Emily Orpin (https://www.flickr.com/photos/ejorpin/8061410382) via: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

It’s sort of interesting to learn, however, how many words well-established writers write each day. According to Amanda Patterson in The Daily Word Counts of 39 Famous Authors, Ernest Hemingway, who wrote such novels as The Old Man and the Sea, A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls, wrote 500 words a day. Michael Crichton, author of suspense thrillers such as Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, and Sphere—all of which became films—writes a prodigious 10,000 words a day. Mark Twain wrote about 1,400 words a day, and many modern writers—Stephen King, Nicholas Sparks, and Anne Rice—write 2,000 to 3,000 words daily, or roughly 7 to 10 double-spaced, typed pages.

Michael Crichton originally began writing to pay his way through Harvard Medical School.

Michael Crichton originally began writing to pay his way through Harvard Medical School.

Ali Luke, in How Much Should You Write Every Day?, points out that some writers write quickly, producing many words, while others write slowly and meticulously, writing fewer words. She says it doesn’t matter how much work you accomplish, or even if you physically write every day, as long as you determine for yourself how much and how often you should write to feel good about the progress you are making. She does recommend, however, that you develop a routine for yourself, as this routine will develop your writing muscles. Like a marathon runner who gradually runs longer distances, you may need to write less before you can write more.

Photo by Peter Mooney (https://www.flickr.com/photos/peterm7/14911124135) via: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

Photo by Peter Mooney (https://www.flickr.com/photos/peterm7/14911124135) via: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

On the surface, what Ali says seems to contradict what I stated in the first sentence of this post, i.e., that it’s important to write daily. But writing is not just the act of putting words on paper. It is also the act of feeding your word bank by reading widely, playing word games, and consciously listening to how people speak and what they say. Observation is a critical part of a writer’s tool box. Writing is also journaling your dreams, writing letters and keeping a diary, scrapbook or journal. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, might argue that taking time off from the physical act of writing by visiting a museum, strolling through a butterfly park or sitting through a concert is still directly related to writing because you can’t write effectively if you don’t also have experiences to capture.

Photo by YoungDoo M. Carey (https://www.flickr.com/photos/youngdoo/173891157) via: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

Photo by YoungDoo M. Carey (https://www.flickr.com/photos/youngdoo/173891157) via: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

Most writers have childhood experiences that encouraged them to develop a passion for writing. I was probably in third grade when I received my first diary, which I kept faithfully until I was in high school. The summer after I learned cursive writing, my mother asked my younger brother, Mark, and me to sit down after lunch every day, and copy by hand a long poem we enjoyed from a thick volume of verse. My parents were our attentive audience when we wrote, practiced and presented a puppet show, using my bedroom closet as a stage. We played word games during car journeys and Scrabble for Juniors at the family kitchen table, solved crossword puzzles, and circled page after page of word search exercises. Once every couple of weeks during grade school, when my family lived in southern California, my brother and I traded the previous load of library books for another heavy stack, trekking 45 minutes each way, to and from the library. During junior high, we walked across the street to the library every day after school, where I read for pleasure until my father finished working and picked us up. That’s when I first began reading a magazine called The Writer, to which I have subscribed for many years of my adult life. My junior high, high school and college years were filled with long letters I wrote to friends in the U.S. and Germany, articles I wrote for the school newspaper, and poems and short stories I wrote for the literary magazine.

Reading is important to writers. When my mother suggested I go outside to get some fresh air, I usually took a book with me. This is a high school snapshot.

Reading is important to writers. When my mother suggested I take a break from reading by getting some fresh air outdoors, a book usually accompanied me. This is a high school snapshot.

The childhood experiences that encouraged you to become a writer in the first place are similar to the adult experiences that nurture you today. One experience flows into another, building layers of memories until they overflow, morphing into words that form a writing routine. James Thayer, in How Many Words a Day, suggests that a schedule is a good place for many writers to start. A schedule often produces an outline, long and detailed for some people and quite loose for others. I know that for me, I don’t like being tied to a detailed outline. However, a general one that is linked to a deadline is helpful. I write organically—but also slowly—with a general idea of where I will end up, and take little detours along the way. But I have to admit that setting aside one or two days a week, when I know that I will sit down and physically finish a writing piece, gets the job done.

One of my all-time favorite writers is Ray Bradbury, who claimed he did not have to worry about schedules. "Some new thing is always exploding in me, and it schedules me, I don’t schedule it. It says: Get to the typewriter right now and finish this." His routine, however, was to head for a typewriter anywhere he could find it. Photo by Fred Guillory (https://www.flickr.com/photos/klytemestra) via: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

One of my all-time favorite writers is Ray Bradbury, who claimed he did not have to worry about schedules. “Some new thing is always exploding in me, and it schedules me, I don’t schedule it. It says: Get to the typewriter right now and finish this.” Bradbury’s routine, however, was to head for a typewriter anywhere he could find it as soon as he woke up. Quotation source:  http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/6012/the-art-of-fiction-no-203-ray-bradbury. Photo by Fred Guillory (https://www.flickr.com/photos/klytemestra) via: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/.

Paula Munier, in Writing with Quiet Hands, says that it took her a long time to learn the lesson that “Showing up every day to write is one of the rules that you break at your own peril.” She points out that Annie Dillard writes every morning and takes off at lunch, John Updike wrote every weekday but skipped weekends, and Maya Angelou rented a hotel room and wrote from early in the morning to mid-afternoon every day. The point is that setting yourself a writing goal within the context of a routine—whether it’s a word count, a specific number of pages, a set length of time, getting from Point A to Point B in an outline, or adhering to a deadline—truly works. What’s your writing routine all about?

© 2016 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

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